Ten Die In Gaza As Israel
Renews Bombing Raids

By Justin Huggler in Gaza City and Danielle Demetriou
The Independent - UK

At least ten Palestinians were killed and nearly 100 injured in the Gaza Strip last night during the heaviest air strikes of recent months.
In a dramatic escalation of the conflict, five Israeli air raids were launched during a 12-hour period, including a missile strike on a crowded road after dark. The majority of the casualties were civilians.
The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned the strikes and called for a ceasefire to stem the spiralling number of attacks.
The air strikes followed an ambush by gunmen in the West Bank in which three Israeli soldiers were killed and came only one day after the launch of eight makeshift rockets from Gaza into southern Israel.
As the violence continued into the night, President Ariel Sharon renewed his government's threats to expel the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He told the Israeli parliament: "This man is the biggest obstacle to peace and therefore Israel is determined to bring about his removal from the political arena."
Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian cabinet minister, accused Mr Sharon of undermining the peace process by plotting to reoccupy Gaza. "Most of those killed are civilians. It's the bloodiest and most dangerous escalation in years," warned Mr Erekat.
The first air strike took place at 8.15am. At least two civilians, a mother and her adult daughter, were injured when missiles hit a half-built house the Israeli military claimed was used as a base to make rockets. Two neighbouring houses were destroyed and more than 30 people were left homeless.
The second air strike took place less than three hours later at a nearby petrol station when a pick-up truck in which two Hamas militants were travelling was hit. One of the dead men was identified as Khaled al-Masri. Israel claimed the men had loaded the vehicle with weapons from the house that was the target of the first attack. At least one bystander was killed.
In the third attack, a hut in a citrus grove was destroyed, but there were claims that a car was the target.
In the fourth air strike, medics said seven people were killed, and 35 wounded, when Israeli helicopters fired at a car in the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. It was the bloodiest attack since a missile raid on a Hamas leader in Gaza City killed nine people in April.
A fifth air strike was launched late last night just outside Gaza City. Three people were reported injured.
Nasser Matar described the second Israeli attack on the pick-up truck. He was about to fill up a car at the petrol station, when missiles exploded a few metres away. Mr Matar said he had heard nothing suspicious before the attack. There were radio reports that helicopters were over Gaza, but they did not hear the sound of the rotor blades. There were people walking in the street, including schoolchildren going to classes.
"There was a Peugeot pick-up stopped at the red light," Mr Matar said. The traffic lights were a few feet from the fuel storage for the station. "I heard an explosion. Fire shot out of the Peugeot. We have three fire extinguishers here, and we put out the fire. There is a lot of fuel here. If the fire extended we would have a terrible situation." The owner of the petrol station and two employees were hit by shrapnel.
Israel claims its assassinations of militants prevent suicide bombings. But Mr Matar said: "This is terrorism. Their intention is to make us panic. To terrorise us.
"Look, I am still shaking. I have two children, one is five, the other seven. If I am killed who will feed them? I never supported the suicide bombings. I always believed targeting civilians was not good. But now I support them."
In the first air strike yesterday, there were reports of as many as 23 injured. These included 54-year-old Ihsan Bulbul, and her 33-year-old daughter, Iman, both hit by shrapnel that flew straight through the house between theirs and the targeted building, and landed in their kitchen.
But the casualties could have been far worse: a piece of concrete lay in a cradle in the family house; Na'ima Bulbul had snatched her 18-month-old baby out of the cradle when she heard the missile.
Next door, Huda al-Widiyeh managed to scramble out of bed before several pieces of concrete fell through the roof. The house that was the target was, the Israelis claimed, used by militants to make Qassem rockets. The local Palestinians denied it.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd




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